The summer of 1941 went by in a flash. The dresses the nurses bought in Manila were put to good use as each of them accepted invitation after invitation to accompany handsome young service men to night clubs and concerts in Manila. There was dancing on outdoor terraces amid fragrant blossoms beneath moonlit skies. There were bottomless cocktails with exotic titles served up in sparkling fancy glasses or hollowed-out pineapple and coconut shells. The local cuisine included ocean fish and sea food caught the same day they were prepared, and over-the-top desserts like flaming Bananas Foster and Coconut Mango Bread Pudding with Rum Sauce. The entertainment in Manilla riveled anything offered in any other well-known metropolis in the world. In fact, Manilla was dubbed the Havana of the Pacific The decadence was enough to make a young woman’s head spin. Enjoying that decadence with a handsome man in an all-white dress uniform took the experience to a whole new level.

Bedside Manner

The climate in the Philippines is tropical and maritime, with warm temperatures and high humidity, coupled with abundant rainfall. In Luzon, the area where Clark Field sat, it was not uncommon to have 150 inches of rain a year. This dampened many evenings of dancing under the stars, but there were plenty of indoor opportunities to enjoy. Gambling, legal and illegal, has been available in the Philippine archipelago since the sixteen hundreds, and the US military personnel spent many hours supporting the gambling establishments. Manila also offered a full array of indoor cultural events, including concerts, operas, and plays. Entertainment was available in Manila rain or shine.

It wasn’t long until the nurses began to talk among themselves about Christmas and all the opportunities to wear new and different dresses to the festivities planned in Manila and right on the Army base. The officers club would of course have its own gala, and every club and venue in Manila was poised to offer the best and most memorable holiday experience. Movie theaters were showing “Ball of Fire” with Barbara Stanwyck and Gary Cooper, and “Mr. Smith Goes To Washington,” starring Jimmy Stewart.


Back at Clark Field and Stotsenburg Hospital, Sally noticed a difference in the men who were coming to serve there. For one thing, they were greater in number, and for another, they didn’t seem to have their dress white uniforms with them. Was it possible they were coming in as part of a troop build-up, and not to escort pretty nurses to fancy balls and renowned concert and plays? The news told of increasing allied military presence in other places in the world, like the United Kingdom, North Africa, and the South Pacific (on the doorstep of the Philippines). One would have to be blind not to see the “rumors of wars” in other parts of the world. But nothing had been said and no training held about what to do if war came knocking at the doorstep of the Americans in the Philippines.

One night at dinnertime in the hospital staff dining room, Sally and some other nurses were invited to sit at the table with the chief nurse and other higher-ranking officers. Sally leaned over and quietly asked the chief nurse, “Don’t you think it would be a good idea for us to get some heavy clothing organized and ready to wear in case we had to move into Manilla and had to bivouac on the way down?” The chief nurse was from Canada and Sally knew the Canadians displayed a lot of pomp and circumstance.

Her superior officer looked Sally square in the face and said, “I shall do no such thing…unless and until we receive orders from headquarters!” And with that, all talk about the potential for war was immediately stopped.

Little did the young nurses know that the “orders” would definitely come, sooner rather than later, “from headquarters.” The “orders” would come from the Japanese “headquarters.”

The Abyss whispered louder…


One of Ethel’s first mornings at Stotsenburg, she went to a patient’s bedside to take his vital signs, and in return she was given a very nice compliment and a new nickname.

“Well, I’ll be damned,” the young soldier in the first bed said to her when he saw her nametag. “I was hoping they’d give me a nice nurse when I came in to have my hernia repaired, but I never expected to see a Hollywood starlet in a starched white uniform and a nurse’s cap!”

“Whatever do you mean?” asked Ethel in her southern drawl. “I’m not from Hollywood. I’m from Bible Grove, Missour-a!” (Most people from the Show Me State pronounce “Missouri” as if it has an “a” on the end.)

“But your name tag says ‘Miss Blaine,’ and I’d swear on a stack of your Missour-a Bibles that you look just like the starlet Sally Blane. You was in a bunch a’ movies…lemmy think…Silver Streak was one movie—remember that? An’ City Limits an’ a Charlie Chan movie, but I can’t remember which one! Don’t try and fool me, Sally! Your secret’s safe with me.” He winked at her, then he turned to the other men on the ward and shouted, “Hey, everybody! We’ve got us a celebrity right here in this hospital! Hollywood starlet Sally Blane is our nurse today. Say hello to her, and don’t tell her I told you!”

Then he grinned at Ethel and laughed as all the boys began chanting, “Sal-LY, Sal-LY, Sa-LY!”

By now Ethel…er, Sally was turning several shades of red, but she continued checking on her patients, tending to them one by one. And each one of the patients either whistled at her or tried to hug her or kiss her and even the sicker ones got in on the fun. One soldier in the very last bed she checked on sealed her fate.

“Well, Miss Blaine,” he said, “different spelling or not, I think you just got yourself a new nickname!”


By the time Sally got back to the nurses’ station that day, the women all wanted to know what was going on in Ward 3 where she had just come from.

“Oh, it’s nothing,” Sally said. “One patient kept insisting that I look like the movie star, Sally Blane. I told him her last name isn’t even spelled the same as mine. But he wouldn’t give up, and pretty soon, all the patients were calling me ‘Sally,’ and they said they believed I was her. They all said they thought I was stuck with the nickname!” Sally was almost in tears.

“Well, I think you do look a lot like Sally Blane, whether you are related or not. And I like the nickname. I think we should all start calling you Sally!”

Within a week or two, Ethel wasn’t called Ethel anymore. The nurses and the staff, as well as all the patients began to call her Sally, and the name grew on Ethel. “Yeah,” she thought. “I do like the name ‘Sally’ better than ‘Ethel!’ Besides, if they think I look like the Hollywood star named Sally, I think I’ll keep it.”


When the bus pulled into the main gates of Clark Field, the nurses began to get an idea what a large complex they were being assigned to. Their Filipino driver, Angelo, told them that the base was originally called Fort Stotsenburg, named after a US Captain, who was killed in combat in the Philippines in 1899. Angelo called out each area they passed by.

“There are three parade grounds,” Angelo told the nurses, “all on the west end of the base. The telephone exchange building over to our right serves as both a post office and for housing the operators for telephone connections. The railway station, over on the left, is a very important place to know, because that’s how you gonna get to Manila for the nightlife!” Angelo laughed heartily. “Oh, you don’t want to miss out on the night life! It is like something you never see before! Trust me, ladies, I tell you the God’s truth.”

The bus wound throughout the base so the nurses could see important buildings like the base exchange, where they could buy anything from socks to underwear to shampoo to small appliances, and the commissary where groceries, paper goods, and alcoholic beverages could be purchased. Finally, Stotsenburg Station Hospital came into view, and next door was the dormitory where the nurses would live while stationed there. Angelo pulled the bus up close to the front door of the barracks, and several men in US fatigues miraculously appeared to help unload the luggage.

Angelo opened the bus door, produced a dusty and tattered carpet that used to be some shade of red, and with a flourish, he stepped down out of the bus and laid the “red carpet” on the ground for the girls to walk on.

“Only the best for our American nurses,” he said, “for you to walk into your new home getting the ‘Red Carpet Treatment!”

He offered a hand to each of the ladies, and when they had all stepped out of the bus, he gave each one a map of Clark Field, the Hospital, and the surrounding area.

“Where did you find all these nice men to help us with our bags?” cooed one pretty nurse.

“Oh, these are the guy in mechanics where I work part of the time,” Angelo replied.

“You must stay pretty busy working in two different places!” said another nurse.

“Yes, I work one-terd time in Transportation,” Angelo said, holding up one finger, “and one-terd time in mechanics.” He held up another finger. “And one-terd time in Hospital where you nurses will see me bring the very best medical equipment and supplies.” He held up another finger. “And one-terd time in the Base Exchange.” He now had four fingers in the air.

“Wait a minute,” one of the nurses said, “four thirds doesn’t make sense! You can’t work that many places!”

Angelo let out a belly laugh. “I just wanted to see if you were paying attention!” All the nurses and the guys unloading the luggage laughed at that.

“Hey, Angelo,” shouted one of the men, “you don’t do nothin’ at all when you’re in the mechanics department, so you can’t count that one!”

Angelo feigned a heart attack and said, “How can you say that when you know I work twice as hard as you do, Freddy!”

The nurses followed Angelo and the other men carrying all the luggage through the front door and everyone stopped dead in their tracks. Standing inside the doorway was the head nurse and she did not look happy.


“Girls,” she said, “this isn’t a cotillion ball. It’s a military installation, and I expect you to regard these quarters with the respect they are due.” She pointed up the stairs behind her. “My assistant is at the top of the stairs with your respective room assignments. Your gentlemen escorts will kindly deposit your bags here in the lobby and they will promptly take their leave. You girls may return for your bags as soon as you receive your room assignments. Supper is at 6:00 p.m. sharp in the dining room behind me, and you are expected to wear your dress whites in the evening. Fort Stotsenburg has been here for four decades, and it has long been a tradition in the Philippines to wear formal attire after 6:00 p.m. We are not about to change it now. There will be a brief orientation following the evening meal, after which you may spend the evening in your rooms unpacking and resting up. More orientation will follow tomorrow morning, including a tour of the two-hundred and seventeen bed Stotsenburg Station Hospital across the parking lot.”

With that, the head nurse saluted the girls who saluted back. Then, she turned on her heel and marched down the hall to her office.

The nurses scurried up the steps, with a few offering a wave and mouthing “thank you” to Angelo and the startled baggage bearers.


The Army bus that pulled up alongside the troop ship in Port Manila was painted a dull shade of olive green, the signature color of all Army vehicles. A destination tag on the front of the bus said: Statsenburg Hospital, which was located forty miles northwest of Manila. While the nurses assigned to Statsenburg said their goodbyes to others assigned to different hospitals, several men transferred the women’s baggage from the ship to the bus. The men moving the bags seemed to be under the direction of a young Filipino man in army fatigues with Filipino military patches on the chest and the sleeves. Soon, the buses were all loaded, and the nurses could see the amount of activity of the busy port as they waited to get underway. The Filipino bus driver finally closed the bus door and lifted a microphone out of its holder with one hand as he started the engine with the other. The gears ground and they were on their way.

“Helloooooooo, ladeezzz!” he cried into a crackling speaker system. “My name is Angelo,

pronounced with the ‘hard G,’ like ‘angle-O,’ no ‘an-jello; I am not jiggly dessert. My name means ‘message from God.’ The night I was born, my mother, she saw the Blessed Virgin Mary through the window of our home, this is true family story, and she gave me a special name.” He tapped his chest for emphasis. “I am Catholic and I practice Christ. Welcome to our peaceful island paradise where our God looks with favor on us each day!” He kissed a crucifix hanging on a chain around his neck. “I am grateful to my God for everything I have, and I try help other people move with Christ.

“And now, on behalf of the Filipino people, I wish to welcome you and offer you some excellent observances as we drive to Clark Field, Statsenburg Hospital, and the modern barracks you will be living in.”

The bus went through the main gate of the Port Manila grounds and soon the views from the windows were much more enticing than the shipyard.

“What’s that beautiful purple flower climbing up that iron fence over there?” one of the nurses asked.

“That,” said Anglo, “is bougainvillea, a beautiful native plant that thrives here year-round. But, ladeezzz, you have seen nothing yet! I will take you on…how you say?..whirling winds tour of our wonderful island of Luzon and the city of Manila. I will show you the excellent happiness of Ayala Triangle Gardens, Mehan Gardens, Dolomite Beach, and many top-rate buildings for your looking pleasure, such as Coconut Palace, Roman Santos Building…”

Angelo was a great guide and soon the nurses were listening to his patter and relaxing in their seats. Some even dozed off; the trip to Manila on the troop ship was long and often boring, and the city sights were a welcome change from the wide-open ocean.

Suddenly a building a block from their route caught Ethel’s eye. She shuddered at the sight of it, though she obviously knew nothing about it.

“What is that walled compound over there?” she asked, pointing out her bus window.

“That,” said Angelo, with a flourish, “is the Pontifical and Royal University of Santo Tomas, built in 1611 when our country was a territory of Spain. We call it the Catholic University of the Philippines. It was originally supposed to train young men for the priesthood. But now it is a university with several thousand enrolled and many types of teaching. It is the oldest Pontifical college in Asia and has offered the courses all the time except in 1898 and 1899 during the Philippine Revolution against Spain. The walls completely surround the forty-acre campus and it has a center garden for prayer and meditation…”

“It looks creepy,” Ethel said, shuddering again. She looked back at the receding University campus, which seemed as if it was rising out of its foundation and…groaning.

Ethel did not know that the abyss, even now, was beginning to overtake the sacred community of higher learning, and the enemy was coming to invade the compound. And Ethel never suspected that the evil the abyss held would someday capture her and her fellow nurses as they risked their very lives to care for their charges.

The abyss hissed, but the nurses’ bus was hurtling along toward their new lives as Army nurses in paradise. They didn’t hear a thing except the chatter of the bus driver, Angelo.